Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco
When the late venture capitalist, philanthropist, and old-time-music enthusiast Warren Hellman launched this now-legendary free event in 2001, he called it “Strictly Bluegrass.” Three years later, as the programming grew more eclectic, he and his team added the “Hardly.” Although traditional bluegrass, folk, and country can be heard on one or more of the six stages throughout the weekend, and contemporary Americana provides a sturdy backbone, hardly a musical genre goes unrepresented. You’ll hear such sundry artists as Judy Collins, MC Hammer, Mavis Staples, Robert Plant, or Kronos Quartet as you ramble around a beautiful stretch of Golden Gate Park’s meadows, glades, glens, and hollows.
Hazel Dickens and Guy Clark were mainstays at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass until their dying days. But young alternative acts—Conor Oberst, the Milk Carton Kids, Joan Shelley—have varied the mix over the years. Outlaw country rocker Steve Earle typically headlines on Saturdays, Emmylou Harris closes the festival every year, and Buddy Miller, Dave Alvin, Del McCoury, Nick Lowe, the Mekons, and the Flatlanders have been regulars.
The crowds can get thick (as many as 750,000 over the three days), and transportation and parking can be tricky if you don’t get there early. But the sublime location, the usually gorgeous fall weather, fresh ocean breezes, the golden dusk, and the amiable vibe make Hardly Strictly one of the world’s great outdoor festivals. —D.R.